Lab grown meat and kashrut
Shalom and thank you for your interesting question! This question is a classic example of what many of us don’t realize, and that is, why has the body of Jewish law, the volume of Halachic literature, steadily increased since the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This is the reason. The six hundred and thirteen commandments for Jews, and the Seven Noahide Laws for non-Jews are all there in what is known as the Written Law, (the Five Books of Moses and certain additional texts,) but the details of how to perform these commandments are in the body of literature known as the Oral Law, the Talmud (or Gemara) and certain other texts. Your question is relevant to Jewish people and to a certain extent also to non-Jewish people, since the potential issues that can be connected to it are not only questions of kashrut. The idea of ‘synthetic’ meat may become a reality. As such, we may indeed find ourselves in a situation where we are offered such food at a friend’s place or even a workplace, and we need to know what to do. Thus, research is beginning on the part of Torah scholars, who need to delve into the Torah sources and see if there are any questions that arose in the past that could have a bearing on this current case. There are principles that were handed down with the Oral Law as to the methods for interpreting Torah law, and the research must be loyal to these principles. To date as far as I know, definite conclusions have not been reached.
I will try to outline some of the Halachic issues that have been raised. Firstly, will this ‘synthetic meat’ be ‘fleishig’ (meat as opposed to dairy)? In other words, can we drink cafe au lait while eating a hamburger made of ‘lab’ meat? The ‘lab’ meat is based on cells taken from animals. This would imply perhaps that it should be classified as meat – as opposed to ‘dairy’ or ‘pareve’. However, that is only one of many questions that now arise.
From what kind of animal were the meat cells taken? For the meat that developed from the cells to be kosher, the cells may have to be taken from meat that came from an animal that was slaughtered according to Jewish law, (although if we are talking about microscopic cells it may not be clearly forbidden, the matter needs to be researched further) which brings up another issue. What if the cells were extracted from a live animal? In that case, it would present a problem for both Jewish and non-Jewish people, since it says in Deuteronomy 12.23 “Only be strong and do not eat the blood, for the blood is the soul (life-force)’ and you shall not eat the soul (life-force) with the flesh.” At face value it seems that this verse is only prohibiting the consumption of blood, however the classic commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) explains that there is another dimension here that is taught in the Oral Law, (Sifri) which indicates that this verse is an admonition against eating a limb of a live animal. There is also a prohibition against eating any meat at all that was taken from a live animal. This injunction, as mentioned above, is relevant to non-Jews also since it is part of the Seven Noahide Laws, and certainly to Jewish people.
Let’s say a system would be set up to remove cells from a kosher animal immediately after it was properly slaughtered, this might work from the viewpoint of kashrut, but it would indeed have to be done quickly so that the cells would still be viable – ie; able to propagate themselves.
There are more aspects that have been raised regarding the kashrut of lab meat. The matter is being studied, and in the meantime, it is always a good idea to have an ongoing connection with a competent Rabbi that you feel you can consult about Halachic matters and life situations. Meanwhile, it is exciting to see Halachic history in the making!